The Cure of the Ten Lepers is the Gospel reading for Thanksgiving. I am sure you are familiar with the story. Ten lepers approach Jesus and ask for His mercy. Jesus directs them to go to the priest and on the way they are cured. Only one leper returns to thank Jesus. “But the other nine,” Jesus asks, “Where are they” (Lk 17:17)? Jesus underscores the importance of expressing gratitude. He praised the Samaritan who returned to thank Him. Although all were cured only one came back to say, “Thank you.”
“Please” and “thank you” are among the first words we teach young children. Although many would suggest that letter writing is a forgotten art replaced by email and Twitter, I hope we also teach the young to write a message of appreciation when they receive a gift, even when the message is delivered over the internet as opposed to the U.S. Postal Service.
While we may set expectations of gratitude for others, we should also examine our personal practice of gratitude. Do I take the time to say “thank you” or am I too busy? Do I put it off for another time which, in fact, never arrives? Do I take the kindness and generosity of others for granted? The Samaritan gives us a wonderful example of prompt gratitude. The person who has a grateful heart and who expresses it in a sincere way builds strong friendships. That applies not only on a human level, but also to our communication with God.
Pope Francis tells us, “Thanksgiving is something which is born and grows among a people capable of remembering. It is rooted in the past, and through good and bad times, it shapes the present” (Pope Francis, Apostolic Pilgrimage to Mexico, February 14, 2016). Thanksgiving is a fitting time to remember the blessings we have received.
As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, let’s follow Pope Francis’ advice. “It will do us good to think back on our lives with the grace of remembrance. Remembrance of when we were first called, remembrance of the road travelled, remembrance of graces received . . . and, above all, remembrance of our encounter with Jesus Christ so often along the way. Remembrance of the amazement which our encounter with Jesus Christ awakens in our hearts. Let us seek the grace of remembrance so as to grow in the spirit of gratitude. Let us ask ourselves: Are we good at counting our blessings, or have we forgotten them” (Homily, February 14, 2016)?
God gave us a memory so we can remember and give thanks. The memory enables us to bring forth from the storeroom of the past the wonderful moments of success, love, and happiness, so that we can re-live and be grateful.
Current events provoke anxiety as we contend with senseless acts of violence in our own country and the reality of war in the Middle East and Afghanistan; threats of nuclear devastation; assaults against the dignity of the human person, marriage, and family life; the drug crisis in our cities and towns; and personal reasons for worry and concern. Yet, the person of faith sees God in every event, even those that are marked with anxiety and sadness. It is the latter that often brings us to our knees, uttering prayers for strength and guidance.
I have much for which I am thankful: my Catholic faith; my parents and family; my vocation; years of service as a priest in Buffalo and bishop in the Diocese of Ogdensburg and Syracuse; friends who inspire and encourage me; numerous opportunities to meet the faithful of our diocese through visits to parishes, schools, and other institutions; the beauty of nature; the privilege of citizenship in the United States and the freedoms that accompany it — and the list goes on.
I encourage you to remember and give thanks. The virtue of gratitude is the ability to express our thankful appreciation in word or deed to persons whose words or actions have benefited us in some way. As you remember all those who have blessed you with kindness and generosity, do not forget the people closest to you — your spouse, your children, your friends, your neighbor. Those closest to us are the ones we often take for granted.
It would be wonderful if you attended Mass on Thanksgiving. In the Eucharistic celebration, we thank Jesus for dying on the cross for us, saving us from sin, and rising from the dead. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, “The Eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father, a blessing by which the Church expresses her gratitude to God for all his benefits, for all that he has accomplished through creation, redemption, and sanctification. Eucharist means first of all ‘thanksgiving’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1360).
A blessed Thanksgiving to you and your family. Celebrate it with grateful hearts.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.